During the last week the new NASA rover has been the main protagonist of the media. We have come once more to MarsThis time with the aim of finding signs of life, and we have done it with a much more complete and larger vehicle than the previous ones.
Still, if you think that of the 2.4 billion dollars invested in the mission, much of it was for the processor and RAM, you are wrong.
NASA’s Perseverance rover runs on an old chipset that gives it roughly the same processing power as a 1998 iMac. It has 256MB of RAM and 2GB of storage, with a 200MHz processor, which is really ridiculous compared to that. with a new mobile phone with 8 GB of RAM and 10 times more powerful processors. The original Apple Watch, for example, has 512 MB of RAM and 8 GB of storage, with a 520 MHz processor.
But it all makes sense. Space engineers tend to use long-proven computer components for maximum reliability. They cannot risk having a new processor and that after two years of problems, they need to use processors and circuitry that have been working without problems for decades.
And it’s not just the rover, the Ingenuity helicopter aboard Perseverance is also very retro, use a processor surprisingly archaic called the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, used in smartphones from the mid-2010s, including the Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3, and HTC One M8.
What are sophisticated are the rover’s tools. 23 cameras, systems for landing, navigation and mineral analysis … do not need the latest processor to function properly.
It also has advanced communication tools to transmit information to Earth while exploring the Martian surface, and to manage them it is not necessary to have the latest processor. The Rover is not going to play complex games or perform advanced calculations, it simply collects the information and leaves it to Earth’s engineers to process it.